Expectations for the 2023 Vikings
We are three weeks away from competitive football again when the Minnesota Vikings take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 10 at US Bank Stadium.
There is always optimism at the beginning of a new season, no matter what has come before. What should the expectation for the 2023 Vikings be? It was a reasonable success for Minnesota last season with a new general manager and head coach at the helm. Thirteen wins and a division title were more than most expected. A disappointing performance in the wildcard playoff round gave weight to the opinion that the Vikings had been punching above their weight.
Expectations for the 2023 Vikings
So what of the 2023 Vikings? Generally, the expectation is to improve on what came before, but that will be difficult. Having analyzed Year 1, Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had to make some tough decisions, not all of which will necessarily result in immediate improvement but rather a stepping stone to long-term success.
Senior players and popular names were allowed to leave — Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson — and the roster has seen a significant turnaround. Opinion on the Vikings this season has been largely lukewarm, which isn’t unreasonable considering a bad defense has lost vital contributors. Only recently did the Vikings agree with their star player on that side of the ball when Danielle Hunter agreed on a one-year contract extension — losing Hunter would have been catastrophic.
There is a lot of emphasis on new defensive coordinator Brian Flores improving the defense with his coaching ability and young players. It’s not impossible, but it’s a big ask to get right straight away. The question marks on the offensive side of the ball come with the interior offensive line — as always — and life after Dalvin Cook at running back. With Justin Jefferson leading the way, the Vikings should be able to put points on the board.
How Many Wins?
Can the Vikings match or even better last season’s 13 wins? It won’t be easy. Last season’s results mean a first-place schedule, which for Minnesota translates to challenging games against the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Cincinnati Bengals – teams their division rivals don’t have to play this season.
I don’t foresee the Vikings winning 13 games — though I didn’t last year either. The good news is the NFC North division doesn’t look particularly strong. I think this Vikings team can get up to 10 wins, which will be good enough to see them competing for playoff football. That would be a successful season, given the situation the Vikings find themselves in — attempting the “competitive rebuild.” I don’t expect the Vikings to lift the Lombardi Trophy in February, though if they do make the playoffs, anything can happen.
The biggest thing I want to see is improvement in the team’s weakest areas. That means the whole defensive unit improving, but specifically, the secondary needs to take a big step forward. The defensive line must be more dominant, and the linebackers must be competent in coverage.
On the offensive side of the ball, the area that still needs to see the biggest improvement is the interior offensive line. Somewhat surprisingly, the Vikings are attempting to do this without any changes other than a change of position for Blake Brandel. The Vikings also need to improve their running game. Dalvin Cook was very much feast or famine last season, leading the Vikings to let the highly paid RB go and instead let Alexander Mattison lead a possible running back by committee.
I don’t expect the Vikings to win the Super Bowl in Year 2 of Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell’s reign. I want to see coach O’Connell shaping “his” team into one that shows the potential to grow into a Super Bowl contender. That might mean taking one step backward and two steps forward, which is fine.